In modern times, Jerusalem has been a source of conflict for about 70 years now. One of the oldest cities in the world, it has been at the center of a dispute for the longest time between Palestine and Israel. Both consider Jerusalem as their capital city. The other countries in the world, however, see it as a disputed territory. While Israel does not recognize Palestine as a state, 137 of the 193 United Nations member countries had accorded it recognition till August 2018. Since 2012, it has been granted the status of non-member observer state by the United Nations General Assembly.
The Background of the Dispute
The conflict between the two dueling states of Palestine and Israel has its roots deep-seated in time. Over its history, which spans more than 5000 years, Jerusalem has seen many invasions from different cultures and religions. The conflicts are also based on the religious beliefs of Islam and Judaism. Both revere Jerusalem as a divine and holy place.
Towards the end of the 19th-century, Zionist movement gained momentum as a political movement to bring Jews back to their holy land Zion (the city of Jerusalem in Israel). In the 20th-century, thousands of Jews migrated to Jerusalem and built their settlements on its soil. This led to massive friction between the Zionists and the Palestinian Arabs. During the First World War, Jerusalem was a part of Palestine, but after the war, Great Britain extended its control over the city. The British control lasted till after the Second World War, following which Israel was established as an independent state in 1947.
Different Rulerships in the Past
Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, all these religions have strong ties with the city of Jerusalem. And over the past thousands of years, followers of all these three religions have controlled the city or parts of it. King David in 1000 B.C. established the control of Jews in Jerusalem. In the ensuing millennium, the city witnessed multiple changes in the rulership, including Babylonians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Persians, Arabs and Egyptian Fatimids. During the Crusades that began towards the end of the 11th-century, European Christians combined forces with the Christians in the Middle East to fight against Muslims and other competing groups for the reign of the city. The Ottoman Empire also ruled over the city between 1517 and 1917. It followed the religion of Islam.
Significance of Jerusalem for Different Religious Groups
Jerusalem holds a deep religious significance for multiple religions. In Judaism, the Hebrew Bible prominently mentions the city of Jerusalem. As per the Jewish tradition, thousands of years ago, this is the place where Abraham, the first Patriarch of Judaism, almost sacrificed Isaac, his own son, to God. Later Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, found Jerusalem to be the ‘land of God’. In the biblical times, Jewish people who could not make it to the city for pilgrimage used to pray in the direction of the city.
As per the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was flown to Jerusalem from Mecca on a mythical creature, as his last moments in this world were drawing closer. The city is believed to be the last place he visited before ascending to the heavens and talking to God. That is why the first direction (Qibla) of praying was Jerusalem. Today, however, it is towards Mecca.
Christians believe the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ took place in the city of Jerusalem around 30 A.D. This led to European Christians making Jerusalem a pilgrimage center in the 1st-century A.D., and waging bloody and ruthless battles, or Crusades, for the control of the city from 1099 to 1187 A.D.
What is the Current Situation?
In 1947, the United Nations conceived a plan to demarcate Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab territory. While the City of Jerusalem was to be established as a “corpus separatum under a special international regime” administered by the United Nations, owing to its importance to the religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. But this plan did not see the light of the day.
Following the establishment of Israel as an independent state in 1948, it engaged in the Arab-Israeli War with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Afterwards, the Israeli forces occupied the western half of the city of Jerusalem, making it a part of the State of Israel. The eastern part of the city – with all the holy sites – came under the control of Jordan, and thus Jerusalem became a divided city. However, during the 1967 Six Day War, Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem, and annexed it and some of the surrounding areas into Israel, thereby infringing international law. Further in 1980, Israel passed the “Jerusalem Law” which states that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and it made the annexation of East Jerusalem effective. This annexation has, however, been declared “null and void” by the UN Security Council and it has not been acknowledged by the international community.
Today, both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Despite the fact that almost all foreign embassies on Israeli soil are present in the city of Tel Aviv, the country still considers only Jerusalem as its capital The Israeli parliament ‘Knesset’ and other branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem. Palestine on the other hand currently has its administrative center in Ramallah but it strongly proclaims Jerusalem as its capital.
The international community however considers East Jerusalem as “occupied” by Israel.
The disputes related to the city of Jerusalem took a new turn when the US President Donald Trump announced on December 6, 2017, that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump took a break from the foreign policies followed by his predecessors. The announcement essentially endorsed Israel’s control over Jerusalem. The move was further reinforced when the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.
The decision of Trump to recognize Israel’s capital as Jerusalem has drawn mixed reactions. On the one hand, it garnered praise from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. On the other, it drew condemnation from Palestinians who think the decision will mar the progress of peace treaty between the states.
Although no war has been initiated as yet, the decision has definitely increased the tension in the city of Jerusalem.